US warship sails near disputed South China Sea islands – Times of India


TOKYO: The US Navy sailed a warship near the disputed South China Sea on Wednesday for the first time since Beijing began implementing a law requiring foreign vessels to give notice before entering waters it claims, local media reported.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold “engaged in ‘normal operations’ within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef” in the Spratly chain of the strategic waterway, Japan Times reported citing the US Navy’s 7th Fleet statement.
It further reported that the “freedom of navigation operation” (FONOP) near the Island, which is also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines, was the fourth known operation conducted by the US under the administration of US President Joe Biden.
US warships have carried out “freedom of navigation operations” there in an apparent bid to counter Chinese claims and actions in the sea.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, China’s military has criticised the latest operation as the latest proof of the United States’ “militarization of the South China Sea,” adding that it had tracked the vessel and warned it off, Japan Times reported.
China on September 1 implemented a revised law that enables its maritime safety agency, which belongs to the transportation ministry, to order foreign vessels to leave what Beijing claims as its territorial waters if it judges their presence to be a security threat.
In February, China enforced another controversial law that allows its coast guard to use weapons when foreign ships involved in illegal activities in Chinese-claimed waters do not obey orders, Japan Times reported.
Mischief Reef — the largest of Beijing’s reclaimed and fortified islets in the South China Sea — is home to a 2,700-meter, military-grade airfield and hosts anti-aircraft weapons and a CIWS missile-defense system.
But the US Navy’s 7th Fleet said that, under international law, features like Mischief Reef that are submerged at high tide in their naturally formed state are not entitled to a territorial sea, Japan Times reported.
“The land reclamation efforts, installations, and structures built on Mischief Reef do not change this characterization under international law,” it said.
Moreover, China has conflicting territorial claims with four of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam — as well as Taiwan in the South China Sea and Japan in the East China Sea.
Beijing claims that the Senkaku Islands, administered by Tokyo, in the East China Sea are part of its territory, the amendment of the Maritime Traffic Safety Law could target Japanese vessels navigating around the uninhabited islets, called Diaoyu in China.
Beijing, meanwhile, has rapidly built artificial islands with military infrastructure in the South China Sea, claiming sovereignty over almost the entire maritime area.

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